When I began this journey of local discovery—admittedly, an inward journey, not a traveling venture, as it chiefly involves standing still and looking, digging down into what is right in front of me, or at least, close by—one of the features most mysterious to me was the tide. My almost complete lack of awareness of its coming and going, its timetable of rise and fall barely registered in my day-to-day life. Olympia sits at the bottom of Puget Sound, a body of salt water connected to the mighty Pacific Ocean threaded through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But by the time the last bit of sea-water reaches our shores there is not much ocean-nature left in it to stir the imagination. No foamy breakers hurl themselves against sea stacks or log-strewn beaches as they do on the wilder edge of the “real” coast off the Olympic Peninsula. Still, we do have tides.
And this week, we had “King Tides.” King Tides are not just very high tides but special “astronomical events” which involve the dance of alignment of sun and moon and earth in such a way as to pile up record amounts of water pulled by gravitational forces acting “just so” during lunar cycles around the Earth. This morning, January 15, at 9:32, the tide was predicted to rise the highest of this cycle for this season.
A good place to view this occurrence is along the boardwalk that borders a marina in the central downtown area that faces north into Puget Sound from the bay that shelters the city. The water was indeed very high, lapping against the underside of a bridge that normally is well above the water surface, and stealing up the shoreline almost to a road that circles that side of the bay. There were no waves other than the gentle “push” against the shoreline; all was very quiet. The heavy gray sky reached down to the gray water without much of a line separating too watery elements.
As I stood and gazed over the water, I began to sense a feeling of swelling, of the water gathering itself, holding itself up, a kind of power and a force larger than the usual body of water that filled the bay. Though there was no discernible movement there was something “more” there. A stirring underneath the surface. A drum roll without any sound.
I stood there just silently watching, absorbed by the depth and darkness of the water. I had a feeling that if I stayed long enough I would hear a kind of sigh as the tide eventually relented and released itself from the pull of the moon and turned, slipping back up the Sound to the ocean. I wanted to witness the relaxation of the tension holding the water so high above its usual mark, but it was a cold day and I suddenly felt replete with waiting and watching.
I had felt the deep connection with the water of the Pacific, fingering its way all the miles down the gouged-out trough the retreating glaciers had made so long ago to reach these shores here. On King Tide days the ocean floods in, announcing its power of ancient water over the land, its primal nature tied to the cosmos, reminding us how easily it could once again rise and rise.
A good place to learn more about the science behind King tides is the website of the University of Washington College of the Environment “Washington King Tides Program.” See: https://wsg.washington.edu/community-outreach/hazard-resilience-and-climate-adaptation/king-tides/program/